How to Choose Specialized Search Engines

By Robb Lewis  |  Posted 2008-01-25

How to Choose Specialized Search Engines

Wayne Rash: If you're in business-and obviously Google may not be doing it for you when you need to have a more specialized result in searching the Internet for things that are important to your business-how can you use a specialized search engine?

Robb Lewis: So Google is just, let's be honest, pretty much a good starting point and everyone typically will start there because it's on their desktop and a lot of people's home pages. However, when you do a search on Google to start, let's say you don't know where to go from there, they'll give you various search results. The challenge is, they have results based on their page ranking, and a lot of those page rankings are based on references, referral links to those other sites.

And what ends up happening is a lot of these various sites, whether they're publication blogs, what have you, a lot of these sites will reference shopping engines such as PriceGrabber and and so forth. And your results for the first few pages seem to be primarily shopping or price engines, but they don't help you find the resources of, What should I buy?

So, great if you already know what you want, but if you don't know what you want and you need to learn quickly, especially in categories you don't know anything about, the price engines are really not a good place to start. So where Retrevo and other vertical searches come in is we take a certain segment and we specialize in it and we go a lot deeper.

Rash: A specialized search engine will provide what kind of facilities for a business that you don't get from something more general?

Lewis: Typically-and it depends on the specialized search engine-but typically, they go much deeper into the analysis of the information. Some search engines will classify information and break it into various channels. Other search engines will have human intervention to validate some of the search, so it's a combination of natural search as well as some editorial impact of finding certain sites and when someone searches on a certain keyword referencing the site.

Rash: So you're in business and let's say you want to do something like-you're involved with procurement. You know you've got to out and buy 100 new servers but you don't really know which servers you want to buy, you don't how much you want to pay for them and you don't know where to get them. Will a vertical search facility help you figure all of that out?

Lewis: They actually will either help you figure it out or consolidate information into that centralized, if you will, vertical search or portal. So it makes it a lot easier for you, whereas a general search engine, as you search on those terms, many searches will come and some of them are related to what you want and others are not. In a vertical search state they will bring the information to you or they will bring all of these sites that contain the information that will help you make that decision and they'll put it into nice formats or ways that people can find the information easily.

Rash: So how do you find a vertical search engine that's going to meet your needs?

Lewis: Well, interestingly enough, a lot of vertical search companies will work with partners and blogs that typically write about information that's specific to what they cover. So a lot of it is partner referral-type of links from blogs. But it's interesting that most of them still get their traffic from Google.

Rash: So in other words, if you're looking to buy 100 servers you would look for a server search engine on Google and you'd find a search engine that would specialize in that.

Lewis: Yes, that would be one way to do it. Or what most people typically put in is specifically what they're looking for and they'll see results come back. So once they get their starting point, though, whether they go from Google or whether they go from some blog that they happen to subscribe to, they typically see a cross-reference or promotional link.

Blogs and Partners

Rash: Now how do you tell which one of these particular vertical search facilities or search engines is actually one that's going to be useful to you?

Lewis: Again, it all depends on the user and what other information or periodicals that they happen to be reading. So let's say someone is brand-new, doesn't read a lot of blogs or what have you, they'll either go to Google and search and then try to go through those and see which ones seem to be related to the content they're looking at. Or they'll search for blogs or publications that cover the topic, and look for partners that they-if you remember, in a lot of industries they'll have resources for information they cover, and that's where all the partner links are. So there are really two ways to get those.

Rash: So once you've found the right search engine that's going to actually give you this information, what kind of benefits does it bring to you?

Lewis: If I'm looking for enterprise servers and I found a search engine that gives me a lot of information to help me make a decision and saves me a lot of time, so they would do a lot of work for me, I would typically bookmark it and remember to go there directly. But when you go vertical, you're looking for a little bit more, if you will, answers instead of just search results. You actually look for information that's going to help you make a smart buying decision, especially if it's a significant purchase that you have to get signed off and you want to make sure that the server's the right server.

So you want to look at those vertical search engines that have a community of experts and a good knowledge base of folks contributing and validating the products that they would recommend.

Rash: How do you tell if that's the case?

Lewis: A lot of that is based on user reviews, expert reviews, or if you look at the blogs and forums and the contributions. So if you went to a vertical search engine, which is like the starting point for that, and then some of the top reference sites of that vertical search were a blog, but then you go to those blogs and there's no traffic, there's no community, you have to ask yourself, do other people find this vertical search engine as valuable as maybe another one because no one seems to be contributing information. So a lot of it is based on the buzz or the community that is brought in by those vertical searches.

Rash: So how do you know when you see these results, even assuming you get one that's got some traffic, that the search results are really valid, objective search results and not influenced by perhaps buying of higher spots or what have you?

Lewis: I would love to say the industry doesn't do that anymore but we all know that they do. You would want to be careful to look at a clear separation between organic or natural search results versus advertisement or paid sponsorship. Most of the vertical search engines today will identify those that are sponsored with them and so forth. And in fact, if as a user you went to one that didn't have any distinction I would probably leave that search engine, because most people are doing some type of sponsorship.

Sponsored Links Can Be Useful

Rash: So as a result, if it says this is a sponsored link and it says this isn't, then that's probably a search engine you know you can trust because they're actually revealing which links are the sponsored ones.

Lewis: Yes, correct. And again, I would love to say everybody, but I think most people are doing that. They have to pay the bills, so people have to realize that it does require some type of sponsorship. But here's the benefit, and where people maybe on Google ignore a lot of the paid search: when you deal with a vertical that's specialized in a certain area you should look at those sponsor results because a lot of them are based on the keywords or topics that you have. So you may find them just as valuable as some of the natural search results.

Rash: So what's the best thing that a business can get out of looking for a vertical search engine?

Lewis: What they get is something that's more aligned with the interest that they have. So if they're looking for enterprise servers, for example, they would want to find a vertical search engine that deals with that-and to be clear, it's a search engine, so it's not going to provide or generate all of the content.

But it does bring all of the content into a single source or a single portal, where then I don't have to do a bunch of searches and scroll through 15, 20, 30 pages to find what I need. Someone else has done the legwork for me. Because as a business user, the most valuable thing that we have is time, and we want to make sure that we're not wasting time looking through things that don't matter, aren't related to what we're looking for, or telling our computer a lot of keyword searches and continuing to structure the keywords to tell the computer what we want.


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